The head of
a US research firm says the deaths caused by the swine flu outbreak may be
partly due to an overactive immune system – not a weakened one.
Dr. David Moskowitz is
the CEO of GenoMed in St. Louis, Missouri. He describes GenoMed as a disease management
company that prefers using readily available generic drugs. He says, "We've been
interested in the idea that viruses kill more because people overdo their
immune response, rather than having too weak an immune response." He says if
that's the case, people's immune response can be reduced a few notches by using
common blood pressure medication: "They gently immunosuppress you, much more
gently than, say, prednisone or steroids. So we've been using them for any
viral disease we can get our hands on. We've been using it on West Nile (virus)
in people and horses and birds since 2003 with good results – about a 70%
treatment efficacy rate."
Moskowitz says the high
immune response is caused by what's called a cytokine storm, a "tremendous
outpouring of cytokines, of factors released by white cells that get other
white cells really jazzed up." He says, "It's these white cells…that basically…turn
the lung into a totally cellular organ like a liver, so it can't exchange gas anymore."
"People have always said
with West Nile it's exactly the same group that dies, these young, healthy
people from 20 to 50 that get hit the worst. So there's this old-school
virology dogma that says you only get sick if your immune system is weak, and
yet they've never been able to explain why healthy people cutting the grass are
the ones who get West Nile every summer or why, in the 1918 flu epidemic it was
young soldiers who all died. And the answer is, sure, if you're totally
immunosuppressed, you're at risk for getting a viral infection, but the general
population (that) actually dies from a viral disease are overdoing their immune
response, not under doing it."
The researcher says there
are anti-viral drugs that are effective against the Swine Flu virus but they're
expensive and not widely available. The blood pressure drugs the company uses
for West Nile haven't been shown yet to work for swine flu, so clinical trials
are necessary. But he says these drugs are safe, cheap and available.